You know that wine is often aged in oak barrels, but what else do you need to know about oak wine barrels? Well, let us take you on a learning adventure!
5 Things You Need to Know
It isn’t just wine that’s aged in oak barrels. You probably know that whiskey is often aged in oak, but so is brandy, port, rum, sherry, beer, and tequila. In fact, some red wines are aged in oak, too. There are different rules for different types of alcohol, and often the process that is followed will hinge on the expected end result. If you shop widely, you may have seen balsamic vinegar and hot sauces that have been aged in oak barrels.
2. Barrel Types
There is the French oak barrel and the American oak barrel. Yes, there are two types. They use different wood because American oak and French oak are not the same. The wood impacts the taste and the quality of the finished product. The French oak barrel is generally a tad charred just slightly in order to create a spicy, smoky flavor that is lower in tannins. While American oak barrels are heavily charred to create vanilla, smoky flavors.
3. The Effects of Charring
The process, the level of char, and how long it was charred have a real impact on the flavor of a wine. Obviously, with heavily charred oak barrels you will get stronger flavors. Sweeter flavors come from oak barrels that are lightly charred. It’s all to do with the process and how the tannins break down. The oak compounds also give the wine its color. Of course, the length of time the wine spends in the barrel the dryer it will be. So, the length of aging matters.
4. Humidity and Temperature
Two crucial elements to aging in oak barrels. A warm climate means more changes. Whereas humidity plays a role in both the flavor and the strength of the alcohol. High humidity means less ethanol. This is why many wineries will opt to store their oak barrels in cellars underground where they can control humidity and temperature more.
Did you know that wineries can reuse barrels for as long as ten years? As long as they are well taken care of they can be used over and over again. Most people think that because it’s made of wood it won’t last as long. That just isn’t the case.
Why do we age in oak barrels? It was actually just a happy accident. Once upon a time, clay jars. Then, as the Roman empire spread they looked to transport their wine, along with their food and weapons. The wine was much safer to drink than safer, and the troops needed the calorific boost… and the buzz. There were oak barrel users, too, but those were rare. Clay was the rule. However, as the Romans headed into Europe, clay became too difficult. So, they started using wood after they ran across the Gauls using wood to transport their beer. They quickly realized it was more than just an answer to their transportation problems – it improved the flavor of the wine, too.